BY KIM THOMAS
'A stage space has two rules: (1) Anything can happen and (2) Something must happen.'
— Peter Brook
This past year saw Actors Guild of Lexington (AGL), a staple of Lexington theatre, close its doors, all while another troupe announced its plans to open in 2015, beginning with a January fundraiser. Like any other form of entertainment, theatre goes through transitions. We see our favorite actors breathe believability into their roles, and celebrate their victory when the character is delivered to an audience's delight. We see them in another role, and they again convince us they are a different person, in a different circumstance. Stage managers move about from production to production with the ease and exaction of a trapeze artist. The cast and crew move about, but what about the stage? Theatre needs a home, after all. Doesn't it? Maybe not. Mayhap the new way to enjoy theatre is as adaptable as how we now enjoy television shows on Netflix, or see artists perform living room concerts.
Sometimes a change of venue is the best thing that can happen. After all, SummerFest moved from the Arboretum to MoonDance Theatre, and WinterFest was born, crew and crowds were smiling, everyone survived. On The Verge presented a Shakespeare classic in a downtown church to rave reviews. Balagula moved from the snug confines of Natasha's bistro to the spacious Farish Theatre in Central Library and everyone got a comfortable seat with a sweet sound system to accent Adam Luckey's talents in a fantastic one-man show. Theatre lovers hearts’ broke when Actors Guild of Lexington moved out of its Harrodsburg Road space recently, laying off its lone employee, but all applaud the fact that Artistic Director Eric Seale had put his heart and soul into keeping AGL alive when it first transitioned out of Downtown Arts Center.
Leading lady Laurie Genet-Preston believes the last year "has been a pinnacle turning point. Theatre is changing both positively and negatively. In any great culturally sound environment, there are bound to be growing pains. The closing of AGL is a negative...hopefully it can rise from the ashes as it has done before. The growth of Kentucky Conservatory Theatre (KCT), and the addition of WinterFest is a positive. It's outstanding to see a theatre constantly reinvent itself and feed a wider and more diverse audience." Speaking of evolving, Laurie is leaving her teaching post at Saints Peter and Paul Schools to work for a software company, where she is, "very excited to change and grow."
ON THE VERGE
By all accounts, this was a breakout year for one of the fabulous Waltermire sisters, Kelsey, who I first saw when she appeared as Gloria, the young girl in Studio Players' Wait Until Dark years ago. Kelsey's professionalism and sincerity in her roles is akin to the poise most often found in an older actor, though she is still in high school. She just wrapped her role as Lady MacBeth in SCAPA's much lauded production of Shakespeare's classic, and appeared not long ago in On The Verge's adaption of Much Ado About Nothing, which was staged in the sanctuary, eaves and alcoves of the stately downtown sentry, Central Christian Church. Tom Phillips remembers his role in this production as a favorite from last year. "Doing Much Ado at CCC downtown was a high point for me, certainly. The role, the show, the venue. The church is gorgeous, and they were very welcoming... To see someone like Kelsey Waltermire, so young, just eat up Shakespeare, the role of Hero, like it was breakfast, and just bring it, full-on. I doubt she realized just how high she raised the bar."
ON THE VERGE's founder Ave Lawyer describes her theatre company as one that flourishes in the face of transition. "In 2014, On The Verge, the peripatetic company with an affinity for site specific work in spaces such as Civil War era homes, funeral parlors and clothing boutiques, tackled its most ambitious project to date. When the opportunity to work on the premises of historic Central Christian Church presented itself, Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing with its legendary wedding scene, became an obvious choice for a company that thrives on the unexpected."
Lawyer adapted the classic to click with current events. Stripped down, streamlined, and brought into the modern day, the events of one turbulent weekend in the home of a wealthy political patron played out in a variety of venues from garden to kitchen, cloister to chapel, ballroom to sanctuary, living room to library. An audience of a couple dozen intrepid souls dressed in black and white, tracked the action as it moved swiftly from room to room, upstairs and downstairs, indoors and out.
Lawyer doesn’t miss an opportunity to get in a plug for a possible new stage, adding "On The Verge is in search of a large, empty warehouse space for its next show and would be thrilled if anyone in possession of, or with a lead to, such space would get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or by messaging us on Facebook."
Studio Players President-elect Bob Singleton advises the group is currently going into the final weekend for its second production of the season, And Then There Were None. "Mysteries in general do very well at Studio Players, and Agatha Christie in particular is very popular. This production sold out prior to the second weekend, same as our production of The Mousetrap a few years back. We opened the season with LEADING LADIES, which was well received, reviewed, and attended."
Singleton's role as organizer for the 10-Minute Playfest at Studio Players' Carriage House in August also kept him busy this year. The playfest saw packed houses every night and starred the crème de la crème of Lexington's best actors, both on stage and in the audience. Singleton is happy that the short play contest and presentation (which brought submissions from as far as Australia) will return. He says of the Fest, "We had a great group of people from all over the local theatre community come together for a very well-received run. It’s a continuation of the play fest that Jim Betts and I co-produced in Midway for a couple of years, and we’re thrilled to be able to bring it to Lexington. The Board has already voted to bring it back in 2015, and we plan to add a second weekend to the run."
Studio Players recently held auditions for their next two shows of the season and have started pre-production work on both shows. Singleton adds, "And in the midst of all this, we have begun the play selection process for the 2015-2016 Season. We’ve received a large number of submissions from area Directors and are about to start working our way through scripts. We’re absorbed in the moment, riding some good momentum, and looking toward the future. We are fortunate to have a great group of volunteers and a loyal and supportive audience, and grateful to have them along for the ride."
SUMMERFEST and WINTERFEST
The summer of 2014 marked a new chapter in the history of outdoor theatre in Lexington when KCT SummerFest moved from the UK Arboretum to Moondance Amphitheater in Beaumont Centre. Executive Director Wes Nelson is convinced the move to Moondance enabled his theatre more freedom to expand. "It offered us the opportunity to take a step towards producing a more polished and professional product for our audiences. The restrooms, box office, sidewalks, and tiered seating allowed for a greater level of convenience and comfort for our patrons, while still providing a beautiful space to experience theatre under the stars. Having a permanent stage structure and dressing rooms afforded our designers and technicians more time to focus on the construction and overall aesthetic of our sets. In addition, this stage added a new level of safety for our actors. Overall, it was time for a change. KCT SummerFest has seen a great deal of positive growth over the past few years, and this move was a necessary step in the right direction."
The season opened with Shakespeare's Twelfth Night or What You Will, directed by Matthew Johnson and closed with a long time audience favorite, Little Shop of Horrors, directed and choreographed by Jenny Fitzpatrick.
BALAGULA opened Drinking in America, starring Adam Luckey in September in its new digs at the Central Public Library's Farish Theatre. Jenny Christian brought her director's eye the show, and no one was more excited than artistic director Natasha Williams, who said she and Balagula co-founder Ryan Case approached Jenny with a suggestion to direct a play for the Balagula Season. Jenny had just returned from studying in England and had worked with the Balagula brood before. Natasha says, "We feel that it is important to open the door for the new young directors to bring their talent to the Balagula stage, to diversify both actors' and audiences' experience and to grow artistically. Jenny, who we know and love, and who over the years worked with Balagula in various capacities, has a lot to offer to the development of Lexington's theatre scene."
UPDATE Dec 8, 2014: Ryan Case announced via facebook that he had resigned from Balagula November 20th, delaying making the information public until the Venus in Fur production had concluded. He wrote, "The status of the company is such that it can no longer financially support my position. For the sake of my personal responsibilities, I leave in order to pursue full-time, paid employment elsewhere." Co-founder Natasha Williams also resigned on November 20th.
WOODFORD THEATRE's Education Director and Associate Producer Ellie Clark reports that Woodford Theatre’s subscriber base grew to over 750 season subscribers this season. “That's up by 20 percent from last year.” A Christmas Story: The Musical will finish out the year.
Ellie has several other creative irons on the proverbial fire. "The Girl Project is housed at Woodford Theatre and had a very successful 2014 performance showing in two locations, Woodford Theatre and the Downtown Arts Center. The project has received multiple activism and social change grants. We have already selected 18 girls for The Girl Project 2015 and our workshops started in November.” A fundraiser is planned for April.
Project SEE Theatre has taken a small hiatus but is looking at producing something in the Spring. Founding member Evan Bergman is currently obtaining his MFA in Acting at UVA and Sully White (Transylvania) and Ellie Clark (Woodford Theatre) are meeting regularly to see what the Spring may hold.
BLUEGRASS COMMUNITY & TECHNICAL COLLEGE
BCTC's Professor of Drama and Film, Tim X Davis sends this recap of their semester from London, England, where he is performing in David Edgar's 1990s Iron Curtain Trilogy. "The past year has been busy for us, despite the fact that, due to my commitments in London, we only did one production in the fall semester. In spring, we mounted a successful production of The Diviners at Talon Winery. We also had a great Kentucky premiere this fall of Darren Michaels' Scarecrows Will Never See the Sunset. It was only the second ever production of the show (following the September world premiere in Nashville) and the playwright was able to join us for the run."
"Perhaps the most exciting thing to happen to us this year was our participation in the Kennedy Center/ American College Theatre Festival (held this year in Roanoke, Virginia). Our student Aaron Smith was a participant in the Irene Ryan acting competition, and together with his partner Conway Poteet, made it to the final round! Aaron also received the KCACTF Marvin Sims Diversity Award, a big regional honor," Davis proudly exclaims.
As for the rest of Lexington theatre, 2015 is already booming. Bo List is running the new Athens West Theatre; Jenny Fitzpatrick's new dance theatre is called Blackbird; and Lyndy Franklin Smith and Jeromy Smith’s Lexington Theatre Company plans to present a musical this July at Lexington Opera House. The kickoff fundraiser, “Concert with the Stars,” featuring Laura Bell Bundy, Mara Davi and Jonathan Groff, is scheduled for January 10 at the Opera House.
After a year of stretching, changing, renewing, and reinventing, it seems the spirit of theatre in Lexington is alive and thriving, all the while adjusting its curtains, planning wardrobes, feverishly creating new scenery with hushed stage whispers everywhere exclaiming, "Happy New Year!"
This article also appears on pages 14-15 of the December 2014 print edition of Ace.
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